Poll: Almost half of WA voters are undecided on governor’s race

Among those who have decided, Democrat Bob Ferguson leads Republican Dave Reichert 22% to 20% with six months remaining until the election.

Voters drop off ballots at the White Center Library ballot box

Voters drop off ballots at the White Center Library ballot box on voting day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Six months out from the 2024 election, voters are still largely undecided on the first open Washington governor’s race in 12 years, according to a new Cascade PBS/Elway Poll.

While 76% of voters polled statewide said they were paying attention to the election, a full 47% said they still haven’t made up their minds on the governor’s race. When undecided voters were asked which candidates they were considering, Democrat Bob Ferguson gained some ground over Republican Dave Reichert. Including both groups of voters, Ferguson was leading the race 33% to Reichert’s 28%.

Digging deeper into the data, the poll shows that among likely primary voters, the race is less close. Among those likely to vote in the primary, 42% said they would or could vote for Attorney General Ferguson vs. 29% for former Congressman and King County Sheriff Reichert, 8% for Democratic lawmaker Mark Mullet and 7% for Republican Semi Bird.

Ferguson’s support is strongest among Seattle voters as well as people over age 65, college grads and those with middle income. Reichert’s support is strongest among people aged 51-64, residents of Pierce and Kitsap counties, men and those with income above $100,000.

An unsure and divided electorate is just as clear in poll responses on the presidential election and the race for U.S. Senate. While President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump 58% to 39% in Washington in 2020, the Washington statewide poll conducted May 13-16 shows Biden leads Trump 42% to 34%, with a third of each candidate’s supporters saying they could change their mind.

The poll found Trump has 87% of the support he had in 2020, but Biden only has about 72% of his, reflecting more reticence among Democrats than Republicans to support their nominee, according to pollster Stuart Elway. Trump also leads among true Independents and Republican-leaning Independents.

Asked how they’re feeling about the election more generally, 35% called it the most important election of their lifetime, another 46% said it was more important than a typical election, 12% said no more or less important than any other election, 3% called it less important than most and 5% had no opinion.

Looking deeper into the data, Republican-voting Independents were the most likely to say this is the most important election of their lifetime. And Democrat-leaning Independents were the least likely to say that.

The U.S. Senate race looks a lot closer than it did six months ago, with Sen. Maria Cantwell’s lead over Republican Raul Garcia shrinking from 43%-23% last November to 39%-30% in this poll. Cantwell looks stronger among most likely November voters, 45%-28%. Garcia, like Trump, does better among those less likely to vote, Elway notes. 

The latest Cascade PBS/Elway Poll surveyed 403 registered voters statewide by land line, cell phone and via text to online survey. The poll has a 5% margin of error with a 95% level of confidence, which means if the survey had been repeated 100 times, the results would be within five percentage points of these results at least 95% of the time.

This poll was designed differently from most election polls. Voters were not asked, for example, “If the election was today, who would you vote for?” As Elway explains, this is a poll about the electorate, not about the election. “We give voters credit for knowing the election is not today,” he said. “This is actually more strategic information.”

The poll offers some useful insights into how people in the middle of the political spectrum may have a bigger impact on this election than in past contests. “One of the things you’re going to see here is that some of the softer partisans and less-likely voters are probably going to make a big difference,” Elway explained.

To get to this level of detail, the poll gets a bit granular on party identification. People who call themselves Independents or did not share their party affiliation were asked a follow-up question about whether they are more inclined to vote for Democrats or Republicans.

That nuance allowed the poll results to show, for example, that while 71% of Democrats said they would or could vote for Ferguson for governor, only 46% of Independents who vote Democrat said the same. Reichert’s numbers are appreciably different: 64% of Republicans said they would or could vote for him, but 54% of Independents who vote Republican said they would or could vote for the Republican frontrunner.

While most voters in Washington and around the country say the economy is the most important issue on their mind concerning this election, the other issues they’re worried about depend a lot on their party affiliation — but Democrat-voting Independents are talking about mostly the same issues as Democrats. Republican-voting Independents and the Republican base have one stark difference: Republican-leaning Independents are less concerned about immigration and more concerned about foreign affairs and crime than their Republican cousins.

Democratic-leaning Independent Sofia Argeres, 25, of Seattle said the economy is definitely her No. 1 election issue. “I think it’s pretty horrible and frustrating. I’m making the most money I ever have in my life making pizza in a dive bar,” said the poll participant.

“I graduated from college in 2020. Everything has been disappointment after disappointment. I’m really jaded about how everything is right now,” Argeres said.

She’s leaning toward not voting in the presidential election and hasn’t decided on the governor’s race or the three tax initiatives on the November ballot. But, as she and everyone else has been saying, the election is six months away.

“I haven’t done a ton of research yet,” Argeres said. “I feel like I’m the most apathetic I’ve ever been, which I’m disappointed with myself about. Even if I procrastinate, I do always vote and make an educated decision I stand behind. I’m just not there yet.”

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